A small air strip in the Hudson Valley set a world aviation record this year and will continue to do so in 2019.
It’s now the home of the world’s oldest airplane “Still Flying!”
All through the summer and fall of 2018, the 1909 French Bleriot airplane quietly made world history at a small grass air strip in New York’s Hudson Valley.
“Right now, this airplane is the oldest flying airplane in the world,” Chief Mechanic Mark Mondello said. “Built in 1909, Bleriot 11. Right now, it’s the oldest flying airplane in the entire world. That’s very significant for the Hudson Valley, New York, and the United States.”
Made of spindly wooden slats, wrapped in fabric, tightened by cables, the airplane sports a single wicker stool and stick in the cockpit, and rudimentary gauges for oil pressure, air speed and elevation, and gasoline.
It was designed by and named for the first man to fly across the English Channel, Louis Bleriot.
A propeller made of wood attached to a 35 horsepower French Anzani engine whose bark is much bigger than its bite, according to the pilot who’s assigned the flights because he’s the lightest among the bunch at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome.
“It’s over 100-year-old airplane,” pilot Alex Jameison said. “The engine is tired. It doesn’t put out as much performance. And we have 50-foot trees around the runway here. We show that it can fly, and then we bring it back to the ground just to keep it safe.”
The world-renowned airplane first arrived in the U.S. a few weeks after Bleriot made his record setting English Channel flight in a similar plane. It was purchased by beer brewery heir, Louis John Bergdoll, and flown in air shows around Philadelphia, New York, and Long Island until Bergdoll stored it away in the barn rafters of his country estate and disappeared from public life. He was embarrassed that his brother and fellow pilot, Grover Bergdoll, had become America’s most notorious draft dodger of World War I.
Then, in the late 1950s, Cole Palen, founder of the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, rescued the plane, refurbished it, and began its 60-year flight reign in the Hudson Valley.
Until now, the oldest airplane still flying was another 1909 Bleriot 11 in England. However, it recently suffered some engine problems and has been out of flying commission until at least 2019 and possibly longer.
So with little fanfare, the Upstate New York plane is now the oldest in the world still flying.
Coincidentally, Bergdoll’s brother’s 1911 airplane was also rescued and restored in much the same way. It’s now in a Philadelphia museum as the last Wright Brothers airplane to fly and the most original undamaged Wright Brothers airplane in existence today.
So will New York’s world record setting vintage airplane remain flying, or will it, too, be stored away in a museum to save forever?
“You know, I think there are a dozen museums or more that would be happy to take it off our hands, but we simply won’t let them,” Mondello said. “And I don’t think you could write a check big enough to take it from the collection.”
“Words can’t describe what an honor it is to fly this airplane,” Jameison said. “Even a few inches off the ground, up and down the runway here. But, getting to fly this, the oldest airplane in the country, is an incredible honor.”